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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

First look at Nordic's Cortex M33 cellular IoT module

By Nick Flaherty www.flaherty.co.uk

Nordic Semiconductor has demonstrated its nRF91 Series low power cellular module for the Internet of Things based around the new ARM Cortex M33 core. The module can run on the Verizon Wireless Network in the US and on the Telia network in Norway.


The nRF91 Series is intended to bring the simplicity of wireless LAN technology to cellular IoT architectures. In much the same way as Nordic Semiconductor's nRF5 Series enabled innovation and drove adoption of Bluetooth wireless technology in new markets, the nRF91 Series is designed to be an easily accessible solution for cellular connectivity.

The nRF91 Series is a highly-integrated, low power, global multimode LTE-M / NB-IoT System-in-Package (SiP) that integrates a complete low power cellular IoT system in 10x16x1.2mm package. This includes modem, transceiver, RF front end, dedicated application processor, Flash memory, power management, and crystal and passive components.

Qorvo as a strategic partner for both the RF front end and the SiP development and manufacturing and the module uses Qorvo’s RF front-end, advanced packaging, and MicroShield technology to get the small footprint. It supports global operation with a single SiP variant thanks to the combination of Nordic’s multimode LTE-M / NB-IoT modem, SAW-less transceiver, and a custom RF front-end.

The module uses ARM's Cortex-M33 host processor, along with TrustZone security and Assisted GPS. This is the first embedded core based on ARM's v8 instruction set.
 
The nRF91 takes security for low power IoT devices to new heights by combining the inherent security of cellular connectivity with additional security for the application hardware and software. The integration of an Arm Cortex-M33 processor and Arm CryptoCell-310 security IP enables an entire low power cellular IoT application to be implemented on an nRF91 SiP.

The built-in host processor features TrustZone for Armv8-M, helping secure application data, firmware, and peripherals using an isolated, trusted execution environment across the CPU and system. This provides an efficient security foundation, and reduces size, Bill-of-Materials (BOM), and power consumption versus using an external host processor.

The nRF91 also features built-in support for positioning via an integrated Assisted GPS (A-GPS) solution that combines cellular and GPS technology to deliver fast and accurate positioning.
Jointly developed by Nordic’s highly experienced cellular design team in Finland, and low power experts in Norway, the chip was developed from scratch to optimise the power, cost, and size savings enabled by the new LTE-M and NB-IoT cellular standards. The chip features an unprecedented and unique level of integration by combining a multimode cellular modem and transceiver, as well as application processor, Flash memory, RAM memory, and power management on a single chip.

It includes a complete suite of software and easy-to-use development tools to accelerate innovation and product development with a thriving Nordic development community. This all combines to allow developers to concentrate on developing their own products and services using cellular technology.

“Back in early 2015, when we started the development of nRF91 Series, we set out on a mission to create a truly different solution for cellular IoT,” said Thomas Embla Bonnerud, the Director of Strategy and Investor Relations at Nordic Semiconductor. “A highly integrated, low power, ultra-compact, and simple-to-use solution that would foster innovation and accelerate adoption of cellular connectivity across new markets. We are confident that the upcoming nRF91 Series represents such different solution, and we are excited to provide a sneak peek and demonstration of it today.”

“We are pleased with our strategic partnership with Nordic to bring this new category of cellular IoT solution to the market,” said Eric Creviston, President Mobile Products at Qorvo. “Qorvo is excited to see our leading RF and advanced packaging technology playing a key and enabling part of new products targeting the emerging low power cellular IoT market.”

“Delivering the combination of power efficient, TrustZone secure, and cellular connectivity capabilities to the extensive Cortex-M developer base opens up the benefits of IoT to a diverse range of new and innovative applications,” said Thomas Ensergueix, Senior Director of Embedded, Embedded and Automotive Line of Business, Arm. “We are pleased to see the nRF91 SiP from Nordic with Cortex-M33 and CryptoCell-310 enabling the deployment of secure IoT solutions at scale.”

Nordic is sampling nRF91 to selected lead customers now. Start of general sampling is planned for mid-2018, with first production quantities available by end of 2018. The nRF91 SIP will be available in variants with and without integrated GPS.

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